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The Life of James Stewart
The Champion of Missions

A Skilful Advocate — Concessions and Distinctions—The Finality of Facts—The African Native Affairs Commission—A Remarkable Testimony—The Evidence of Experts—Charles Darwin on Missions.

In these (Christian) Islands they will cook for us; in the others they would cook us.’— Henry Drummond on his Visit to the South Sea Islands.

Moderator, rax me that Bible. ‘—Dr. Erskine, when the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1796 was about to vote against Foreign Missions.

‘He that has bread is debtor to him that has none. ‘—Arab Proverb,

‘We are like a rich family at whose door a foundling has been laid. The foundling is heathendom. It is laid at the door of those believed to be generous.’—From a Missionary Address.

‘"Talk of Little Englanders "! Are they not "Little Christians" who vote against carrying Christianity to other races?’— Welsh’s ‘The Challenge to Christian Missions.’

IN the winter of 1892-93 Stewart gave a course of lectures on Evangelistic Theology to the Divinity students of the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. In April 1893 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Glasgow. The following statement was then made: ‘Dr. Stewart is prominently associated with various perilous enterprises of African travel, and with the establishment of other missionary and civilising agencies in that continent; but it is with special reference to the great work which he has pursued at Lovedale so long with steadfast faith and unfailing energy, and of which he has prepared some years ago a modest record in Lovedale, Past and Present, that the Senatus welcome the opportunity afforded by his presence in this country of offering him this honorary degree.’

The years from 1893 to 1899 take us across another level stretch in his life, where no prominent historic milestones arrest the eye. We may therefore now consider some of the great public questions apart from which we cannot understand him, and which cannot be understood apart from him. These questions, though all closely related, yet lend themselves to a separate treatment.

It is surprising that it is necessary to defend missions to the heathen, but South Africa still supplies some of the most determined opponents of missions in the world. As Lovedale was the largest and best-known missionary centre in the land, it offered a broad target to the arrows of adverse criticism. It thus fell to Stewart to champion missions by speech and pen, as well as by his very successful efforts. One wonders greatly how he found time to employ the Press as much as he did. An eager, watchful student of public opinion, he seized every opportunity of commending his cause when it was assailed. He utilised passing phases of native and missionary questions for the enforcement of permanent principles. Practice bad taught him how to turn the remnant of the hurricane of opposition into a favouring gale that sped him on to the harbour.

His wisdom appeared in what he did not do. He did not flash his light in the eyes of others, but he practised great self-restraint, though the common objections he had to combat were extremely ignorant and provoking. You meet many in South Africa who tell you with a parrot-like poverty of language, ‘that missions spoil the native; that the heathen are best left alone; that the raw Kafir is far better than the Christian; that Lovedale boys are a bad lot; I have been many years in the country, I know all about it.’ The mission Kafir is spoiled for those who wish to exploit him. He has now a notion of his rights, and of the laws which protect him. He cannot be sjamboked with impunity. Some say that a raw Kafir is better than a Christian Kafir. But the raw Kafir is better than many white men. Yet because of that fact no one proposes to teach white men the Kafir creed.

South of the Zambesi there are about 500,000 adult whites, every one of whom is a missionary and a teacher of good or evil. There are also about 1000 missionaries. You have thus one professional missionary for every five hundred non-professional missionaries. Is it reasonable to suppose that the one missionary is more responsible for the anti-white feeling and evil habits of the natives than are the five hundred whites by his side, many of whom do not set a good example? The raw Kafir in his native state is very courteous and polite, but he loses these good qualities when he goes to the towns and the mines. Why? When under the exclusive influence of the missionary, his politeness often develops into a complete devotion to the white man. This was the experience of Livingstone, Moffat, Mackenzie Coillard, and many others. How can we account for these facts? May it not be that the harsh critics of missions are angry because they cannot use the educated native as a cheap tool, and then discharge their anger upon the missionaries?

Many blame the missionaries for over-educating the natives, forgetting that nearly all mission-schools are aided by the Government, which has fixed by law the standard of education. ‘Education,’ says a South African journalist, ‘is the greatest curse that could have overtaken the native.’ For that curse the Government is responsible.

Stewart might have cut the controversy short by quoting Christ’s last command, and intimating that to oppose missions is flatly to deny the faith: that objections to missions are objections to Christ and His apostles. The Bible tells us hundreds of times that our faith is, as the hymn puts it, ‘to spread from pole to pole.’ Or he might have pointed out that the evil lives of many white men, whose Christianity could not endure exportation from home, disqualified them as judges, and robbed their objections of all force. When I mentioned that he had not done so in any of his books, he smiled and said that he had purposely refrained from such home-thrusts. He might have said that geographical neighbourhood did not necessarily imply any knowledge of facts, as one might be as ignorant of things around him as if he had spent all his life in a lighthouse or on another planet.

[In a Scottish fishing-village, there was a conversation lately about Whales appearing in the Bay. A visitor said that he had been afraid that his boat would be upset by one that came very near him. A fisher. man added that his sails had often been drenched by the spouting of the whales. The brother of that fisherman, a landsman, said that he had lived in the village all his life, and that he had never once seen a whale.]

Aware that truth often suffers more by the heat of its exponents than from the arguments of its opposers, and that intemperate truth is often as harmful as error, he gained his case by his moderation, tone, and concessions. He did not resent even unreasonable criticism, and frankly admitted all real failures and mistakes. He often saw, he said, many defects which his critics did not see: his standard and penetration were greater than theirs. He was careful not to lose his temper or give advice scalding hot. His aim was not to silence but to satisfy, and, if possible, to win the objector. As a wise advocate, he often entered in at his opponent’s door and brought him out at his own. And when he did succeed, he was careful not to degrade his victory into a triumph. He might have made his own the fine French saying, ‘ I love victory, but I do not love triumph.’

Having thus created the proper atmosphere for the discussion of the question, he quietly made the needful distinctions. To attend the mission and wear European clothes did not make the Kafir a Christian. To associate with Christian men, and take on a veneer or top-dressing of civilisation, cannot make a man a Christian. Do white men always apply to themselves the very high standard by which they judge and condemn the natives? Then, what about the youths who come out of the best schools and colleges in Christian lands? Are they all genuine Christians, or the majority of them? What has been written by the friends of these favoured institutions—for example, by Benson in his Upton Letters— should silence the severe critics of mission scholars. It should not surprise us that many trousered natives represent the ‘blotting-paper of civilisation,’ having received only an external, blurred, and blackened outline of our religion.

Moreover, he was a profound believer in the finality of facts. His plan was not directly to contradict or to oppose opinion to opinion, but to give the facts and ask people to draw their own inferences. Our Antaeus conquered because the anti-missionary Hercules could not lift him from the ground of fact.

In Lovedale, Past and Present, published in 1887, he used his favourite method with great success. A more remarkable and effective defence of missions has probably never been published. It is on a grand scale and thorough.

The introduction is written in a tone fitted to propitiate the sceptic. A great effort is made to be perfectly fair to objectors. Here is a simple register of nearly all the pupils of Lovedale up to date. ‘This register is offered as our reply. It is a simple record of facts ‘—‘ a veritable fact heap,’ as one called it.

The register contains the names and brief biographical notices of 400 male pupils on the Europeans’ Roll, and 2058 on the Native Roll. The analysis of the Native Roll shows—

  • 16 Ministers or Missionaries.
  • 20 Evangelists.
  • 251 Male Teachers.
  • 158 Female Teachers.
  • 6 Law Agents.
  • 3 Journalists.
  • 202 Agricultural Workers on their own land.
  • 26 Telegraphists.
  • 15 who have relapsed into open heathenism.

He used to tell that only three per cent. of his pupils had been brought before a magistrate for breaking the law. He would then ask—’ Can Oxford do better than that?’

The crowning reply to antagonists was Lovedale. There it was, and its most liberal supporters were shrewd and successful business men in South Africa, who had carefully examined Lovedale On the spot. Several of them were not Presbyterians. They supported the Institution with donations which reached four figures, and in one case £5000. Of the whole sum spent on Lovedale, 75 per cent, was provided by South Africa.

These 2058 native pupils were not all who had been in Lovedale up till 1887. They were only those who had been traced. During these twenty-one years the numbers have been growing. It must, be remembered that the great majority of these pupils occupy the most influential positions among the natives, and that they become the leaders in their several tribes. Lovedale means all that. In view of these facts Major Malan wrote in his farewell letter to Stewart, ‘The attacks that Satan and man make upon you are only mosquito bites in comparison with the blessing which the Lord sends you in His service. Faint not.’

We can now understand why an eminent South African missionary has said: ‘Dr. Stewart is the only man of his generation who has made the colonists realise the value of mission-work as worthy of the best talents, and a force to be reckoned with by men of all parties. . . . There was a time—quite recent—in Africa when missions and missionaries were held in slight esteem, not only by natives for whom men were sacrificing themselves, but by Europeans who looked more upon the economic and political issues than upon the moral and religious aims of missionary labour. There was a time also in South Africa when the idea of Christianising and civilising the native tribes was regarded as a delusion of weak philanthropists and visionaries. The man who overthrew these notions was Dr. Stewart. He made mission-work a force to be reckoned with in the political and religious as well as in the economic sphere, and what of status and respect missions and missionary labour have in Africa among statesmen, politicians, publicists, and the official class, is largely the creation of his work, his policy, and his courageous determination.’

South Africa itself has supplied the most unanswerable reply to the African adversaries of missions. When Lord Milner left South Africa, be generously expressed his regret that he had not done more for the native races. But he did much. In view of the proposed federation of the six South African colonies, he secured the appointment of the African Native Affairs Commission. It was the most competent tribunal that has ever examined this great question. It consisted of eleven statesmen of repute who represented all the six divisions of South Africa. They were all men of great colonial experience— administrators, teachers, traders, and farmers. Not one missionary was on the Commission. They spent nearly two and a half years in collecting evidence from all quarters. They summoned many witnesses and welcomed all who wished to be examined. They asked no less than 45,578 questions, and all the questions and answers have been printed in full in four enormous Blue Books. In their Report, published in 1905, they unanimously declared that the natives must be educated and civilised; that the only people who have tried to elevate them are the missionaries and some Christian families; and that ‘hope for the elevation of the native races must depend mainly on their acceptance of Christian faith and morals. The weight of evidence is in favour of the improved morals of the Christian section of the population, and to the effect that there appears to be in the native mind no inherent incapacity to apprehend the truths of Christian teaching or to adopt Christian morals as a standard.’ And it is added, ‘The Commission is of opinion that regular moral and religious instruction should be given in all native schools.’

‘We have here the strongest justification of the missionary attitude that could be uttered, and it is the more striking, because it is probably at variance with the large majority of (uninstructed) colonial opinion’ (Colquhoun’s The Africander Land).

It is understood that the facts were a revelation to some of the Commissioners, and that their attitude to missions has thereby been entirely changed. The colonist hostility to the education of the natives gave way before the facts. It is now generally admitted that if the whites are to make men out of the blacks, and a Europe out of Africa, it must be by such methods as Lovedale employs.

One of the Commissioners has very frankly avowed the impression made upon him by the facts presented to him. Here is an extract from the newspapers :— The Durban correspondent of the Cape Times writes to that paper on roth November, 1905 :— ‘A remarkable address on missions was given at Verulam this week by the Hon. Marshall Campbell, whose presence at a missionary meeting was in itself significant. Two years ago, be said, he would have refused to attend. He was one of a commission sent throughout South Africa to study the native question, and he had been impressed that it was his duty to do all he could to acknowledge the good and noble work done by missionaries. He made special personal inquiries of individuals, went through schools and workshops, hospitals, the Kimberley mines, and at all was impressed with the excellent effect on the natives. Asking an overseer at Kimberley mines how he liked these, "Kolwas," he replied, "They are the finest men we have—more intelligent and useful all-round men than the others." Mr. Campbell made surprise visits, and learned that these educated boys were the best-behaved boys in the camp. He made a point during the visit of the British Association of throwing into contrast raw natives with educated ones, and he had since repeatedly received letters stating that the writers were so impressed that their attitude regarding missionary work would be altered, and they would do all they could to help it. Mr. Campbell closed his address with reference to the apathy of Government officials in relation to the best interests of the natives, showing that Natal was far behind the Cape in this respect, and that unless we did something more for them, a reaping time would come for our children or theirs terrible to contemplate.’

The friends and foes of missions alike need naked facts, for these overthrow scepticism and supply the fuel that feeds the sacred fires of zeal. ‘I went to Africa,’ says Stanley, the African traveller, ‘as prejudiced against religion as the worst infidel in London—but I was converted by him (Livingstone), although he had not tried to do it.’

Alongside of Stewart’s moderate and restrained tone in dealing with assaults on missions, we may place some of the methods adopted by other eminent men.

Sir Andrew H. L. Fraser, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, says: ‘I have examined the matter carefully in all parts of India, and I rejoice in the results of mission-work. The unfavourable view of the results of missions I do tell you solemnly is, I believe, due to want of interest, or want of knowledge, and the first is the greatest defect of all.’

W. S. Caine, M.P., in his Picturesque India, says that he found the East swarming with half-castes, and also many unfriendly critics of missions, and that he could not help laying these two facts alongside of each other.

Dr. Warneck says: ‘A great part of the opposition among men of degraded character arises from the check which missions put upon the indulgence of their baser passions.’

The Earl of Selborne, the first Lord of the Admiralty, speaking at a recent meeting in Oxford, said: ‘I wish to give you my testimony as to the general value of mission-work after eight years in the Colonial Office and the Admiralty. I have no difficulty in stating the impression left on my mind, and that is the profound contempt, which I have no desire to disguise, for those who sneer at missions. If a man professes to be a Christian it is absolutely impossible for him to deny the necessity of the existence of missions.’

Captain Alfred Bertrand, the famous Swiss explorer and hunter, and author of the magnificent book, Au Pays des Barotsi, came upon the French missionaries in Zambesiland. Till then he had taken no interest in missions. He was surprised and delighted with what he saw, and he has since devoted his time and talents to the furtherance of the French mission. He says: ‘Christian missions constitute a power which escapes man’s intelligence and analysis; they are the continuation of the apostles’ work; and apart from the subtleties of theology, they avail to bring us back to the true faith.’

‘I had conceived,’ writes R. L. Stevenson, ‘a great prejudice against missions in the South Seas, and I had no sooner come there than that prejudice was at first reduced and then annihilated. Those who deblatterate against missions have only one thing to do, to come and see them on the spot.’ He adds:

‘The missionary is hampered, he is restricted, he is negated by the attitude of his fellow-countrymen, and his fellow-Christians, in the same island.’

Mrs. Isabella Bird Bishop writes: ‘I am a convert to missions through seeing missions and the need for them.’

Lord John Lawrence, Viceroy of India, testifies:

‘Notwithstanding all that the English people have done to benefit that country, the missionaries have done more than all other agencies combined.’

Darwin, of the Origin of Species fame, is the boldest of them all. In his youth he went round the world in H.M.S. Beagle, and he has told the story of it in his Journal of Researches. He studied missions as a man of science. ‘I assured them,’ he writes, ‘that I was a sort of a Christian.’ He liked to place side by side a heathen and a Christian Fuegian. ‘It was without exception the most curious and interesting spectacle I ever beheld. I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilised man. It seems yet wonderful to me when I think over all his (a Fuegian convert’s) many good qualities, that he should have been of the same race, and doubtless have partaken of the same character, with the miserable, degraded savages whom we first met here. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. The success of the mission is most wonderful, and charms me, as I always prophesied utter failure. I could not have believed that all the missionaries in the world could have made the Fuegians honest. The mission is a grand success.

The march of improvement consequent on the introduction of Christianity throughout the South Seas probably stands by itself in the records of history.’

Having expressed his admiration for many of the converts with whom he spent some time, he adds:

‘But it is useless to argue against such reasoners (who object to missions). I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness so open as formerly, they will not give credit to a morality which they do not wish to practise, or to a religion which they undervalue if not despise’(tenth edition, p. 393). He adds: ‘The lesson of the missionary is the enchanter’s wand’ (p. 403). ‘I never saw a nicer or more merry group (of mission children in New Zealand), and to think that this was in the centre of the land of cannibalism, murder, and all atrocious crimes. . . . I took leave of the missionaries with thankfulness for their kind welcome, and with feelings of high respect for their gentleman-like, useful, and upright characters. I think it would be difficult to find a body of men better adapted for the high office they fill.' [Those who wish to see this subject effectively handled, should consult Dr. Welsh’s The Challenge to Christian Missions, and The Missionary and his Critics, by the Rev. J. L. Barton.]

In order to appreciate the changed attitude of official authorities to foreign missions we should recall the words of William Ward, the colleague of Carey. After an intense struggle during thirteen years, the British missionaries in India were granted passports in 1812. ‘We shall now be tolerated like toads,’ Ward wrote, ‘and not hunted down like wild beasts.’

As such a theme may dispose some to exaggerate the difference between themselves and the heathen, we should remember that there are no sadder sights in the world to-day than those which are found in the great cities in nominally Christian lands; and we may fittingly close this chapter with the prayer: ‘Save us, O God, from our pagan selves. Smite the heathen in us, and exalt the Christ.’

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